In 1954, Federico Bahamontes came to his first Tour de France. He was excited and all he wanted was to attack in the mountains. This was not without a reason. He showed in his first Tour de France that he was the best climber of the peloton. As soon as the riders started to climb, Bahamontes placed an attack and was gone. You would think that this would lead to a lot of stage wins, but that did not happen. Bahamontes was scared of the descents and would usually wait for the other riders as soon as he arrived on the top of a mountain. The Galibier was one of the last mountains to be climbed in this Tour de France. Bahamontes passed the top as the first rider, but waited. As always. Still, he had proven that he was the best climber and went home with the polka dot jersey.
How different it was ten years later. In the year 1964, Bahamontes was one of the most experienced riders in the peloton. In the ten years as a professional rider he had learned to descent, to think before he attacked and to take a chance whenever possible. He won multiple Tour stages and won the general classification in 1959 and became the first Spaniard to win the Tour de France. Still, he was in love with the mountains and was always pleased to ride in the Pyrenees. Nevertheless, on of his most impressive wins was in the Alps.
It was on the 29th of June, stage eight. Bahamontes placed an attack on the Col du Télégraphe. There were no other riders in his wheel. He was eager to win the mountain classification for the sixth time in his career and although he knew that there were young talents in the peloton (Simpson, Janssen, Altig, Poulidor), he also knew that he still had the legs to beat them. But he wasn’t completely sure of himself, so he went up the Col du Galibier really fast and on the top he had a difference of more than three minutes on the following group. He was safe and, unlike ten years before, he did not wait and went solo to the finish in Briançon. It is one of the great wins of Bahamontes. He won another stage in the Pyrenees and became first in the mountain classification. He took the polka dot jersey home for the sixth and last time. That record still stands until today.
The Col du Galibier.
Only pronouncing that name will already give you chills.
Never mess with this mountain or it will mess with you.
It has a height of 2645 metres.
You can almost touch the clouds at the end of the climb.
Or as some people say: ‘you can touch the hand of God’.
This year the Tour de France is celebrating that
the Galibier is in the Tour for a hundred years.
Therefore the Galibier had to be climbed not once, but twice.
On top of that, the riders had to climb to the top for the first time in history.
Never before did the riders finish on 2645 metres above sea level.
The rider who would win this stage will become a legend, for sure.
We all know now that Andy Schleck has become that legend.
On Thursday he proved to be the best rider uphill.
Still, Andy Schleck is not the only legend of the Galibier.
The Galibier has always been an important mountain in the Tour,
so obviously it has created more legends than just one.
Take Emile Georget for example.
He was the first Tour rider that passed the Galibier in 1911.
Without touching the ground, that is.
A lot of riders walked up the Galibier,
Julien Gabory even lost his own shoes on the climb.
What is the Galibier without a story of Coppi and Bartali?
In 1952 they were climbing the Galibier together.
Coppi would win the stage, but who gave who the water bottle on the Galibier?
A famous picture by Walfrido Chiarini shows that Coppi and
Bartali are holding the same water bottle in the picture.
Fans of Coppi said that he gave his bottle to Bartali,
fans of Bartali said that he gave his bottle to Coppi.
So who was speaking the truth?
Nowadays people think it was Bartali who gave his bottle.
Bartali still had two water bottles left and Coppi had none.
Malabrocca, a good friend of Coppi,
also confessed that it was a bottle of Bartali.
Coppi and Bartali are unfortunately not able to tell us anymore.
The Col du Galibier is the only one that knows what really happened.
In 1966 there was also a moment between the rivals Anquetil and Poulidor.
Just before the tunnel on the Galibier,
Anquetil offered Poulidor a drink.
Poulidor refused it and later on he stated that he ‘wasn’t thirsty’.
Even on the hardest climb, the competition between the two remained.
That is the power of the Col du Galibier.
© Walfrido Chiarini